Our bi yearly trip to Lourdes is to my faith what an MOT is to a car, during those days I’m able to seek out the cracks and the malfunctions and put them right. To go back into the world fresh and full of Christ. I’ve blogged many times before about Lourdes, and the amazing things I’ve gained from my many pilgrimages to the shrine. All of the many words I’ve written and spoken about Lourdes previously boil down to one thing: Lourdes teaches me a lot about life.
Life is beautiful, life is an adventure, its joy, its celebrating, it’s falling in love and laughing until it hurts. Saying that, I can’t tell you how many time I’ve held a close friend while they’ve cried at the feet of our Blessed Mother and I myself have been known to shed a few tears in Her presence. Where better, after all, to let it all out in the very place where the weak are made strong through prayer, where this pain is elevated in joyful devotion, where we are surrounded by people to pick you up and to build you up. So, in order to be truthful I must say, life is beautiful, but it hurts. It will crush you occasionally.
Usually when I get to the end of a week in Lourdes I feel complete, full up and ready to go on; like everything, all the pain, I had come to Lourdes with had been fixed. This year I left with more pain and more disquiet than I had gone with, and that I had ever felt before. It wasn’t going away.
It dawned on me just how intricate and fragile humanity really is. We’re sinful, we’re broken, we’re nasty. It was humanity that nailed Jesus to the cross, commit abhorrent acts in His name, it’s us who start the wars, it’s us who corrupted what was once good and vital, it’s us who abuse our power.
Our ultimate call is to holiness, to be with God. Sometimes it feels like He hasn’t given us a fighting chance. (or just me?)
It often occurs to me in discerning a vocation that my path is already planned. So I’m not just choosing what I want to do for the rest of my life, but rather I’m trying to find out what God has chosen for me to do for the rest of my life. That’s a terrifying thought.
This is no more overwhelming than when you are at your weakest and it all seems a little too big for you. In the early hours of this morning, watching the sun rise as I tried desperately to fight back tears I was kind of ready to give up. throw my hands in the air and decide not to try any more. Life is hard.
But life is beautiful.
Lourdes is beautiful, the place itself is a truly one of God’s great works of art. The one place I know that still looks beautiful in the rain. It’s beautiful not just because of the setting, but the very essence of it. Everywhere you look it’s plain to see, this is a place of the weak, the broken, the sick. A place of comfort, of safety and more than that, a place to be strong.
But here is the very centre of that beauty: the people. Out of the heap of humanity that I had written of for being corrupt, power-hungry and just generally a bit awful, here is a town full of people devoting every hour of the day to making each other strong.
So in the cold and rain at 6 am this morning feeling the pain of God taking away the one thing I had wanted so much. Feeling frustrated for caring. Feeling angry at God. Later that day, after a nap, a mass and a marathon netflix session, I was reminded so powerfully of just what made life beautiful. It’s people.
Yeah, people can be awful, we’re sinners by design, broken jars, we’re weak. But aren’t we spectacular despite that?
Fulton J Sheen says that Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them. Brother Angelo told us of how when he goes back to visit home, he goes with an empty bag and his family fill it with gifts for him to return with. This is how we must be before God. Empty. He makes us weak so we can be made strong again. In that process we come ever closer to Christ and as with every journey it’s much more fun to go together. Walking through the domain behind a mother and her young daughter holding hands Fr Paul said to me “When we see a mother and child we’re reminded of our basic need to be loved. We never lose that need, we just try to hide it”.
It’s an age-old question; how do I bring home what I’ve learnt in Lourdes? How to I hold on to what’s happened in my heart here?
Bishop Alan had a great response. He said “never forget what has happened here”. Never forget what has happened to you, those moments that changed you. But never forget what happened for humanity; Heaven met earth so that the sick may be healed. A place was created for us all to go in our weakness, in our pain, and to be carried to God’s mercy and His grace. Those cracks we have in us, the splintered parts that make us a little broken, God speaks in them. The tears of frustration you cry for yourself and for you brothers and sisters in Christ, God speaks in them. In the sunrises you watch after you’ve been up talking all night, God speaks in them.